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Religion and Economics

There is a relationship between one's faith and economic policy. Ideas have consequences and religious ideas have a major impact in the economies of the material world. This is why it is absolutely critical that our political leaders be screened for their view on economic policy. Their economic worldview is a reflection of their true faith commitment. Eastern ideas have been growing in influence within Western culture and undermining the Christian principles that built Western Civilization. In the following article R.J. Rushdoony describes the impact of Karma on Western economic philosophy and policy. 

Karma, Debt and the Sabbath

By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony


The doctrine of Karma is one ofthe most important religious doctrines invented by man. Its origins areBrahmanic, but its great development is Buddhist. Perhaps no other non-Biblicaldoctrine is more important and more perceptive, however deadly. Karma is thelaw of cause and effect as it regulates the present and future life of man.Karma says that what a man sows, that shall he also reap; every man inheritshis own burden of sin and guilt, and no man can inherit the good or evil actsof another man. Karma holds that sin cannot be destroyed by sacrifice, penance,or repentance, but only by self-expiation. A man thus spends his life (andfuture reincarnations, according to this doctrine) working out the atonementfor sin. The important fact about Karma is that this doctrine does justice tothe reality of cause and effect; it recognizes the reality of sin in man, andthe burden which sin imposes on the present and the future. Modern humanism isunable to cope with this fact of causality and chooses to ignore it. It doesnot escape causality thereby and only compounds its problem.

According to Karma, the past determines the present andthe future. Man’s sin most surely finds him out and will not let him go.

The karma faiths have no savior, but they are at leastaware of the reality of sin and its demand for expiation. Their doctrines ofself-atonement are ineffectual, but their realism as to man’s condition makethem wiser than those moderns who choose to deny causality.

The doctrine of karma was current in the world of theBible, especially the New Testament era. The Bible speaks emphatically ofcausality, and the consequences of sin (Gen. 2:17; 3:7). Moses declares, “yehave sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num.32:23). Paul warns, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a mansoweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). However, rather than an abstractworld of causality, for the Bible the cosmos is the creation of the personalGod. This fact creates a vast gulf between the Bible and the doctrine of Karma.

But Karma does stress a fact that the modern worldchooses to forget: causality. It isthis fact that Keynesian economists choose to forget. Keynes himself, whenasked about the long-run consequences of his economics, replied, “In the longrun, we are all dead.” Because of its disregard for causality, Keynesianismcreates an inflationary economy; long-term consequences are dismissed in favorof short-term benefits.

The average American and European is not familiar withKeynesian as a body of economic thought; they are familiar with it as a way oflife, their own way of life. In Keynesian terms, all sin is assessed in termsof present benefits, not in terms of long-term consequences. As a result, debtliving has become a way of life. From a moral liability at the beginning of thecentury, debt has become now an asset, and the word credit, which once meantreliability, now means the ability to contract debt. The world’s monetarysystems are no longer based on the gold standard but on debt; paper moneyrepresents debt, not wealth.

The modern Keynesian world is a rejection of the triuneGod and His law-word, which prohibits debt beyond a six-year limit, and thenfor necessities only, which requires covetous-free living, and which regardsdebt as a form of slavery. Between 1945 and 1980, many fortunes were built (andmany lost) by pyramiding debt.

But debt, like sin, has its consequences. Karma holds that past sins govern our present andfuture lives. With its concomitant doctrine of re-incarnation, Karma holds thatthousands of generations or re-incarnations may be necessary in some cases towork out the self-expiation necessary. The burden of sin and guilt is notlightly discarded simply because man wills it. Causality rules all thingsunrelentingly.

This brings us to the deadly aspect of thedoctrine of Karma. Because of its unrelenting doctrine ofcausality, the past rules the present and the future. Only insofar as we have abetter past or Karma can we have a better future. The world of Karma is apast-oriented world.

The same is true of the world of debt. For those who arein debt, the past governs the present. The first claimant on their monthlycheck is the past: the house payment, and other debts have a fixed claim ontheir income before either they or God can touch it. One of the most commonquestions I encounter with respect to the tithe is this: “How can I tithe, andstill meet my payments on my debts?” The house is on “the never-never plan;”the car and furniture get old and shabby before they are paid for, and man'sdays are dominated by the past.

Modern man may not believe in Karma, but he has created anew world of Karma in debt.

The same is true in politics. Cause and effect inpolitics has brought the world’s many nations to the raw edge of judgment. Inpolitics, this has brought some vaguely conservative parties andadministrations to power. All are looking for cosmetic solutions and avoidingthe long and ugly chain of causality which has led to the present crisis. TheKarma of modern politics threatens them like a crumbling cliff over a cottage,and all are offering a more modest table fare as the solution.

All around us a host of things have created a vast chainof causes and effects which threaten our world: debt, the minimum wage law,statist education and the new illiteracy, welfarism, and much, much more. Theworld may say, Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, but Godsays, Tomorrow the judgment. (One is reminded of the cartoon, picturing asad-faced man carrying a sign on a busy street, reading: “We are all doomed:the world will not end!” Man has no escape from his sins in any way of his owndevising.)

When the past governs the present, it has a paralyzingeffect on it. As J. Estlin Carpenter pointed out many years ago, the doctrineof Karma froze society and led to the caste system. Basic to the dogma was thisprinciple: “a man is born into the world that he has made.” The present is readin terms of the past.

Our current Karma culture is also seeing a likestratification. Despite the talk of equality, the premise of welfarism and moreis the incapacity of vast numbers of peoples. The ghettos of America have seensuccessive waves of immigrants come and go as they worked their way into moreadvanced positions. Now we have, as a policy of state, an assumption that apermanent ghetto resident is a fact of life. (of course, because ofenvironmentalism, we now seem to hold that a man is born into the world othersmade for him.)

The two principles of Karma are, first, “A man is born into the world that he hasmade,” and second, “The Deeddoes not perish,” i.e., consequences continue until they are fully expiated.Karma cannot be destroyed, neither by fire, flood, wind, or the gods. It mustproceed unrelentingly and unerringly to its results. A man might brieflypostpone the workings of his Karma, but he could never frustrate nor destroythem. All else passes, but acts and their consequences remain. Destiny, Karma,reigns and rules. The word deva isgods, and daiva, derived from it, means destiny, and, for the Buddhist,destiny is simply past acts,according to L. de la Vallee Poussin. Since Karma includes in its unrelentingcausality mental acts as well, man’s waking thoughts as well as his dreams insleep govern his life and add to his Karma. Only through good acts can manexpiate his past sins, and “the good act has three roots: the absence of lust,of hatred, and of error” (Poussin). Thus, we have a negative idea of good, sothat its essential function is to diminish the retribution for the vastaccumulation of past acts.

The very clear fact which emerges from thisis that, in the world of Karma, there can be passivity and withdrawal, butdefinitely not rest. The Biblical doctrine of the Sabbath isthus unique. We are commanded to observe the Sabbath in Deuteronomy and to“remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thyGod brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm:therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath Day” (Deut.5:15). Redeemed man can rest because he knows that the Lord has saved him. Themeaning of the cross is not that the consequences of our sin are simply overlooked,but that Jesus Christ makes full expiation for our sins. The causality isworked out on the cross; atonement is made for our sins, and we are free fromthe guilt and the burden of sin. Where men deny the causality of sin, they denyalso the atonement, and they become antinomians.

But only Christ’s atonement can free man from sin anddeath and give him rest. The answer to the doctrine of Karma is the atonementand the Sabbath rest which the atonement creates. The Sabbath law follows thePassover event, and it sets forth the salvation-rest of the Old Israel. TheChristian Sabbath follows the atonement and the resurrection, the first day ofthe week, and it celebrates the salvation-rest of the New Israel of God.

The redeemed in Christ now are governed, not by the past,not by their sins, nor by Karma, but by the Lord, who is the same, yesterday,today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). They are to live righteously, to render to alltheir due honor, to love their neighbor as themselves, and, as a normalpractice, to owe no man anything, save to love one another (Rom. 7-10).


The true Sabbath enables us to rest, because, first it isChrist’s finished work of atonement and continuing work of providence that isour life, not our deeds and past acts. 

Second, we can rest, because we are not past-bound andpast-oppressed and haunted. We can say with David, “I will both lay me down inpeace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Wehave the blessedness of restful, trusting, sleep. Instead of a burden, the pasthas become an asset in the Lord, who makes all things work together for good tothem that love Him, to them who are the called according to His purpose. (Theconverse of this is that all things work together for evil for those who hate God,Obadiah 15; Jeremiah 50:29; Lamentations l:22.)

Third, because we are now future oriented, we become DominionMen, working for godly reconstruction in every area of life and thought. Ourlives are dominated, not by past burdens but by present responsibilities andthe assurance of power (John 1:12). Together with Joshua (and the apostles,Matt. 28:18-20), we have the assurance: “Every place that the sole of your footshall tread upon, that have I given unto you...There shall not any man be ableto stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I willbe with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Joshua 1:3, 5). The sadfact today is that many church members profess Christ but live in the world ofKarma. To illustrate, one church officer, an able and talented man but adespiser of God's law, has twice been bankrupt, several times a failure inbusiness because of lawless policies and debts, and is a sour and criticalleader whose ways are oppressive to many. There is no Sabbath in his life, norany freedom and power; he has the aura of a hunted man, and, in his work, is a“plunger,” one who prefers risks to sound practices. We have all too manypastors whose sermons are trumpets always sounding defeat, and echoing with theoppressiveness of sin, not the freedom and joy of victory and redemption. Theirsermons echo the death of the tomb, not the triumph of the resurrection.

To all such we must say with Paul, “Awake, thou thatsleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph.5:14). (June, 1981)


Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 106.